As virtual events became a necessity, so did having high-quality, professional content. No longer could executives, event emcees, and other presenters get away with shooting in a poorly lit basement, or with subpar audio or a poorly composed image, and expect to attract attendees. In addition to better conveying a message, increased production values also help hold an audience’s attention.
AV Chicago, an Illinois-based provider of AV production and event management services, recognized the industry’s changing expectations with regard to streaming and worked on developing a scalable solution. In early 2021, AV Chicago teamed up with Chop Shop—a Chicago butcher, deli, restaurant, and bar—to reimagine Chop Shop’s 6,000-square-foot event space and concert venue and create a state-of-the-art, broadcast-quality production studio.
“It started from a desire to solve client needs but has turned into a long-term initiative to build our hybrid event solution,” said Justin Frick, co-owner/president of AV Chicago and the visionary behind the Studio at Chop Shop.
The initial vision, Frick said, was to produce both recorded and live events from a television-grade facility, but the emphasis changed once the AV Chicago team recognized the market demand for a more robust broadcast set with more dimension and texture, and a variety of integrated scenes.
When users enter the studio, they are greeted by a massive 29.5-foot by 16.5-foot (3456 x 1920 pixels) LED Triton Links RX 2.6 video wall, which features redundant digitizers and Green Hippo Karst media servers with an Analog Way VIO 4K switcher/scaler. All of this brings together a nearly 4K background that doesn’t aesthetically overpower the set.
The Studio at Chop Shop features three stages that are able to provide different yet complementary looks for differing segments within the same program. There is 32-foot catwalk between the LED wall and the main stage that adds depth, texture, and additional staging options like walk-ons. The main stage is 20 feet wide by 12 feet deep, but can be increased or decreased in 4-foot increments for flexibility, which is critical for custom events. With a 12- by 6-foot side stage, a 14-foot brick wall, and a 20-foot curved black drape functional presentation space, a single event can accommodate everything from interviews to performances and emcee monologues … all without a set change.
The Studio at Chop Shop has four Panasonic AK-HC3800 HD studio cameras and two Vinten Osprey Elite camera pedestals with 24-foot teleprompters. Other production gear includes a motorized 15-foot jib with teleprompter, and a handheld or tripod-based camera with wide lens. The staff can also call on a Panasonic AW-HE2 wide-angle remote camera and Panasonic PTZ cameras. “We chose the Panasonic cameras because they were the proper quality and price match from our inventory for the project demands,” said Frick.
As with any production environment, lighting plays a key role at Studio at Chop Shop. “We can rehearse talent, build gorgeous sets and use dynamic camera shots, but if it’s not well lit, it’s meaningless,” said Andrew Brode, co-owner and president of AV Chicago.
The studio includes 12 FloLight BladeLight 5,600° K fixtures for a wide, uniform front wash, eight ETC ColorSource units on the front-of-house truss for specials, six Chroma-Q Studio Force II with Chimera LightBox on the midstage truss, 12 Elation TVL200 II backlights, eight Martin MAC Aura wash lights on the upstage truss, four Chroma-Q Color Force 72 II fixtures, and six Chauvet profile fixtures. The entire system is controlled with High End System’s Hedgehog console.
No studio would be complete without a killer audio system, and Studio at Chop Shop does not lack. The audio booth houses a Yamaha QL1 mixing console, two Yamaha Rio1608 Dante interfaces, eight channels of Shure Axient-D, two channels of Shure PSM 1000 IEM transmitters with four receivers, and a Nexo audio system for live sound reinforcement. The audio team also has a suite of Sennheiser and Rode shotgun microphones and an optional band microphone package.
AV Chicago also developed a proprietary platform for virtual and hybrid events. “In-person and virtual attendees have unique but similar needs, which is why we created a custom event platform,” said Brode. “Our attendee engagement tools, coupled with the customizable platform, has allowed us to make sure the virtual attendee experience is as exceptional as the experience for those attending in person.”
Having the Studio at Chop Shop increases the appeal of galas, fundraisers, or corporate events held at the venue.
“With AV Chicago’s vast knowledge of both live events and broadcast—backed up with an extensive inventory—it was the natural choice to help my production company, ESP Presents, transition our clients to the virtual format,” said Matt Woodburn, co-founder and CEO of ESP Presents, an event production company. Woodburn is also co-owner of Chop Shop.
“Being the co-owner of an almost 6,000-square-foot event space at Chop Shop Chicago, this was the perfect partnership to reimagine an underutilized asset during the COVID-19 pandemic. We pushed our collaborative strengths to create a highly functional multiuse, hospitality-meets-creative studio that truly delivered on the high-touch/high-tech standard that ESP and AV Chicago are known for.”
“When live events stopped during the pandemic, the team at AV Chicago pivoted,” concluded Frick. “With this fully functioning studio we created with Chop Shop, we were still able to service our customers, while following all required COVID-19 protocols. I’m proud of the results and looking forward to creating many more dream streams with clients.”